Number 1: Alternity
This game will always be of immense importance to me. It was the first game I owned that consistently drew me back to it over and over. The mechanics, the settings, and the art all drew me in and held me there. I think it has some flaws and all, but it hit so many of the things I was looking for that it was easy to get past the small number of minor annoyances.
The Peritextual ElementsThe art is just fantastic in the game. The main books have some truly spectacular art and the rest of the book series have, at worst, adequate art. The pages are a semi gloss and a pretty heavy weight. The hard covers are solidly built and sturdy. I have had the Player's and Game Master's Handbooks since 1998, I have taken them around the world and through a war and the cover is still solidly held together. Now I try not to hurt my books, but even still that is a fine quality book cover. The only real downside I have on the layout is the dark blue green they use for sidebars, they can get a little rough on the eyes, but it is a minor gripe.
Mechanical ElementsThe core mechanic is pretty interesting. Roll a twenty sided die and try and get below your skill level(or half your attribute level for untrained skills). However it is more than ust a binary pass fail system. Each skill roll is broken into four possible outcomes: Failure, ordinary success, Good Success, and amazing success. the lower you roll the better your result. The die roll can be altered by a situational modifier which is a a die that is rolled alongside the d20 and either subtracted or added depending on game factors. The game is heavily task oriented and has a large number of skills. There are broad skills which cannot be advanced, but give a solid basis for doing all sorts of things and specialty skills which allow you to increase them with experience points. This is a bit of a detriment as the game carries some issues relating to how the attributes work. you get skill points based off of intelligence and so you can have a variable number of skill points. With the large number of skills it can be very difficult to get the character you want to play. each specialty skill also has a series of rank specific advantages that allow you to do cool stuff with the skill if you have a high enough rank i the skill. I really like these and wish there were more. Every now and again I look through the game and think about reworking it into something simpler and more unified.
The game also has Last resort points which let you modify rolls and the like, but as they cost experience points and are very limited by your attributes you will not likely see them in your game. You may also spend your skill points on perks and gain some skill points on flaws. However as you don't have enough skill points in general, most people never get more than one perk and only gather the least offensive flaws. There is the requisite big lists of weapons and equipment, I like it, but nothing special. And there is a bunch of optional stuff like mutations, psionics, and cybernetics. The GMs guide also has rules for FX, which include super powers(which do not work very well at all in this system), spells, and miracles. Also conversion rules for AD&D 2nd ed, so you can now play your space elves.
SettingsStardrive was the first big setting for the game and it has a boatload of setting material for it. It is set in the Verge, an area that was the very edge of human space before the second galactic war. During the war they were left to there own devices, but now the war is over and everyone is trying retake their old holdings and things are getting crazy what with alien invasions and stuff. The setting is a really solid kitchen sink space opera and it has one of my favorite campaign plot devices ever. the lighthouse is a massive space station/war ship that does a constant circuit through the verge. It is like Babylon five, but bigger and it travels. So it lets the players have a home base and be involved in all sorts of places.
The other major setting is Dark Matter. Which is one of the best settings for nineties style strange investigations into the unknown. You play members of the Hoffman institute who are investigating all the strange goings on. See, there is this stuff called dark matter that ebbs and flow through the universe like a tide. When the dark tide is high, magic, psionics, aliens, and dimensional travelers become common. And the tide is rising. If you ever wanted to fight a nanotech hive that has taken a human host one week and a greater demon wielding mystic flame the next, boy howdy is this the game for you. Also it reworks the magic and miracles FX rules from the GMs guide and they are some of my favorite magic systems in gaming ever. Super fun setting.
There was also a take on Gamma World for the system, but it only had one small book, and was middling at best. Finally there was a Starcraft quickstart that came out right before the gameline was cancelled. It is not that good, but I do wish they had made a whole game book for it rather than just a sample adventure and a bunch of generic pregens.
So that is the first game of Christmas. Tomorrow...
Star Wars(You know which one)